When I was growing up it sometimes seemed as if prayers were offered up to just about anybody. God, the saints, dead relatives, Jesus. If you had ears – or once had had ears – you were a fit object for prayer. I wondered sometimes if it mattered how we directed our prayer. Were prayer requests to Jesus more likely to yield fruit than those offered to our grandparents? Or Saint Jude? I used to pray to trees and flowers. Was that okay, too?
When it comes to prayer – especially prayer that is linked to getting some thing or some result – we all want the secret sauce. How do you pray to God for help? How do you ensure a response? Are there any guarantees when we pray?
One way to approach prayer is to focus less on results and more on process. We should not come to God and Jesus the way we approach real estate agents or car salesmen. It is not a question of bringing our A game, the better to maximize returns. It is closer to marriage, closer to parenting. It’s closer to a friendship that lasts a lifetime. Sometimes, it is important to ask what we can offer. Sometimes it’s better not to think about our needs and wants. It’s not that God is going to turn away. It’s just that we love God, too. Why not act that way?
This makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it? God is not in the dark about our lives. It is not like we are filling in the blanks for a boss who only thinks of us when we come in for a raise or to complain about office politics. As Jesus said so long ago, “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
There is real comfort in that line! If we really listen to it – if we are open to it – then we see that it calls on us to be faithful. It asks that we take a deep breath and be a little slower to judge what’s going on. Behind every plea to God that our lives be changed – whether we’re pulling for more sun during the family vacation or the removal of fatal cancer cells – is the notion that we know better than God what’s right and good and necessary. And we really have to question that idea. We have to consider the possibility that we don’t have a clue. There must be a better way, right?
Does this mean that prayer is fruitless? Beside the point? Or maybe just a matter of listening?
Not at all. Nor, by the way, do I think that we are supposed to play it tough. If you’re scared or in pain, talk to God! By all means talk to God. Reach for the hand of Jesus. If your best friend or your child needed you to listen to them, would you turn away? Would you tell them to suck it up?
It’s always okay – it’s more than okay – to turn to God or Jesus when we’re in need. Those are important prayers. What I am suggesting – gently, gently – is that we reconsider the nature of our investment in prayer. Are we asking for comfort or are we asking for a specific result that we’ve decided is right?
In other words, are are trusting God?
To trust God is to be faithful. To trust God is to see your own self differently. It is to recognize the futility of self-directed and self-obsessed effort. When we are really in that space of trust it helpfully shifts the focus from our own efforts to an effort – a source – that transcends us our in every way. It’s a letting go of what is small in favor of what is grand. It’s not academic. It can be done and we can experience its effects whenever we choose.
Prayer has its own energy. That’s one of the reasons I compare it to significant relationships. There’s nothing static about it. What works today might not work tomorrow. What worked ten years ago and hasn’t been tried since might make a sudden reappearance. It’s a two way street and God wants and needs it as bad as we do. Count on that.
Because in the end, that is all that we really can count on: the mutuality of prayer. When we come to the zafu or the prie dieu or the rocker or the tree in the forest – only you know where God waits for you – God will be there, too.